By: Michael Hartnack, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Police arrested the editor of Zimbabwe’s leading independent weekly and two of his reporters Saturday after the paper allegedly insulted President Robert Mugabe in a story about his vacation, the editor’s lawyer said.
Iden Wetherell of the Zimbabwe Independent, a respected business and political weekly, was expected to be charged with criminal defamation of Mugabe, said lawyer Linda Cook.
The paper reported in Friday’s edition that Mugabe commandeered one of the heavily indebted national airline’s jets for an Asian vacation with his family and a small party of aides.
The report, “Mugabe grabs plane for Far East holiday,” said many passengers booked on the Boeing 767’s flights to London were stranded in Harare while alternative arrangements were made.
Cook said Wetherell, 55, was arrested at his Harare home and taken to the city’s main police station. Reporters Dumisani Muleya and Vincent Kahiya were arrested later and police were looking for a third Independent reporter, Itai Dzamera, she said.
Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who also is acting transport minister, said Wetherell and the two reporters faced up to two years’ imprisonment for defaming Mugabe, the state Herald reported Saturday.
“This was not the first time the paper has written lies that are blasphemous and disrespectful of the president,” Moyo said.
Moyo denied Mugabe personally phoned Air Zimbabwe, as implied in the report, but Moyo did not deny the airplane was diverted from its regular schedules for more than five days.
Mugabe does not have his own presidential jet and has often thrown the national carrier’s schedules into disarray by commandeering its planes.
Last month, the paper reported Mugabe took an airliner for nine days for a trip to a United Nations meeting in Geneva and a visit to Egypt, forcing the national airline to charter another jet for more than $1 million.
Meanwhile, police Saturday blocked entry to the offices and printing plant of the country’s only independent daily newspaper for a second day, defying a High Court order issued Friday to allow The Daily News to resume publication.
The government has ignored three similar orders since police shut down the paper Sept. 12.
Since its launch in 1999, The Daily News has been a platform for government criticism. The state controls the country’s two other dailies, and the only television and radio stations.
Under sweeping media and security laws passed in 2002, at least 18 independent journalists have been detained, usually for about 48 hours. None has been convicted.